You come home from a long day of your favorite physical activity. Perhaps you just did sprint intervals through Golden Gate Park, hiked up Cowles Mountain in San Diego, or did a lap around the Slickrock trail in Moab. You’re tired and sore. You just want to eat something and go to sleep. Suddenly you remember: you made a date with your neighbor for dinner! It would be rude to cancel at the last minute. What do you do!? You get in the shower and turn it on. The hot water relaxes and soothes your body, loosening your muscles. You reach up to the shower knob, and turn it to its coldest setting. Icy water cascades down the back of your neck, your skin tingling with the sudden change in temperature! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh you think to yourself. This feels great! You turn the water off, and step out of the shower fully charged and ready for your date.
Sound crazy? Perhaps it is, however contrast showering has many benefits, including learning to enjoy (or at least not despise) cold water.
Benefits: Contrast Showering is a tool you can use to supercharge your day. Here’s why:
- Increased mental alertness. A morning Contrast Shower will wake you up better, and is healthier than coffee. The cold water will cause you to become completely focused on the present, shaking off any cobwebs of tiredness, or mental distraction.
- Faster recovery from a physical exertion or workout. During exercise, as your muscles reach the limits of their strength or endurance they become slightly damaged on a cellular level. During recovery, the muscle repairs itself, becoming stronger than it was before. This is the principle used behind strength training. Just like with an injury, your muscles swell when they are exercised. This is where the expression “pumped up” comes from. As with an injury, swelling in the muscle can be slow healing. Contrast showers reduce the post workout swelling, thus decreasing recovery time.
- Increased vitality in skin and vascular system. During a hot shower the pores of your skin open as wide as they can. Simultaneously your blood vessels vasodilate, increasing their diameter to improve blood flow. Switching to cold causes your pores to immediately contract, and your blood vessels vasoconstrict, driving your blood to your core to conserve body temperature. By alternating water temperatures you exercise the skin, and the muscles located in the blood vessel walls by way of their opening and closing, and vasodilation and vasoconstriction respectively. In a way, it’s strength training for your skin and blood vessels.
- Increased mental toughness. Swimming in colder water will no longer be intimidating or shocking. You will laugh defiantly when it rains.
There is no time commitment for contrast showers. You simply incorporate it into the time you already spend showering. Now let’s look at how to contrast shower:
- Spend the first few minutes of the shower getting used to the hot water. Try to increase the temperature until it is as warm as comfortably possible.
- In one quick motion turn off the hot water, and increase the flow of the cold. Note: for the first few times you may need to use cool water, working up to cold after one to three showers.
- Be aware of your reaction. Do you start huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf? I know I did. Begin to consciously control your breathing. Over time train yourself to not react to the cold water. Eventually hot or cold should have no effect on your behavior.
- Once you have regained your composure, stopped breathing hard, and/or trying to avoid the water (making sure to immersing your head, back of neck, and armpits) then make the shower as hot as is comfortable again. Your cold phase should have lasted for approximately 20 seconds (minimum).
- Repeat 1-4 times, ideally ending with a cold cycle to close down your pores.
- For future showers experiment with the duration of the cycles. Work up to taking full length showers in nothing but cold water.
Contrast showering is a Lifehack that does not require spending extra time, or money. You can benefit from it at zero cost. By building up this daily discipline you will notice the effects spilling into other areas of your life. Not to mention you will feel quite mentally tough, and have very high vitality.